Chair of Judges speech for the 36th presentation of the Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Arthur C. Clarke Award
5 min readNov 19, 2022
The 2022 shortlist

Speech by Dr Andrew M. Butler, Chair of Judges, introducing the shortlist for the 36th Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction book of the year, Oct 2022.

Watching them come and go

The judges and the submissions

They’re judging the Clarke Award

Opening trilogies

Pleasure comes and torture goes

Scribes who’d give you anything

Some bear the bird of Penguin Books

Submission for the Clarke Award

A hundred books submitted, six books shortlisted, five judges: Phoenix Alexander; Crispin Black; Nicole Devarenne; Stark Holborn; Nick Hubble.

There was laughter, there was tears, there was playing with dead mice.

And that was just the cats sneaking onto our Zoom call.

There’s a particularly pleasurable agony of getting down to six books, which contrasts with the agonising pleasure of picking the winner. Some of the names are familiar to us from earlier shortlists.

Kazuo Ishiguro has been shortlisted before, for Never Let Me Go. Klara and the Sun is set in an unspecified near future city, with the Artificial Friend Klara, who forges a relationship with a young girl who is ill. The story is following up some of Ishiguro’s earlier themes and forces us to be limited to Klara’s view of the world; nevertheless, we can guess what is going to happen and we watch with horror and fascination as we read what one judge called “one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in the last year” and another labelled an anti-Pinocchio. There is love between the Artificial Friend and the real friend, but it might not always run both ways.

Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace is the follow-up to the previously shortlisted A Memory Called Empire, which some of our judges hadn’t read and didn’t feel it made this quote “massively sprawling space opera” impossible to follow, partly because it doesn’t emphasise the technobabble.

(Their words, not mine)

Three Seagrass is brought in to establish communication with a new alien species who appear to pose a threat to the Teixcalaani Empire, and she in turn brings in Ambassador Mahit Dzmare to help. There is intrigue at court and among the military factions, as the loving relationship between the two protagonists develops and the aliens connect more deeply. The judges found it “beautifully crafted”.

And our final returnee to our shortlist is for Aliya Whiteley, last shortlisted for The Loosening Skin, and back with Skyward Inn. This is science fiction’s answer to Jamaica Inn, but I’ll have to get back to you about what the question is. This is a platonic love story of the human Jem and the alien Isley, who run a pub in an anti-technological enclave in Devon. Earth has previously encountered Isley’s species, the Qitans, who more or less surrendered at once to humanity. Now the peace is going to be shattered by a virus, and the appearance of an illegal alien. The judges said it was “a meditation on love.”

Watching them come and go

The poets and the scientists

Veterans and the debutantes

Standing on the shelf and screen

It’s great to see authors that previous judges had recognised coming back, but what of the newcomers?

Harry Josephine Giles’s Deep Wheel Orcadia is new territory for us, a novel in the form of a poem or a poem in the form of a novel, in fact two poems or a poem and its translation. It’s a book which the judges said transported them to elsewhere, an epic in glimpses, with a sense of fragmentary history. It has shades of Anglo-Saxon poetry and Norse sagas, where what the judges see as its representation of “the disorientation and desolation of deep space” standing in for seas and oceans. Primarily, it is written in Orkney Scots, with an underlying but complex not-quite translation into standard English.

Courttia Newland’s A River Called Time was years in the making, a contemporary dystopia in a universe where Europe has not colonised Africa. The central character, Markriss Denny, aspires to join an Ark of the privileged in what we know as London, taking with him a developing talent for astral projection which might save him and destroy this society, or might lead to something more sinister. One judge “loved the astral projection” and all declared that it was packed full of ideas.

Finally, Mercurio D. Rivera’s Wergen: The Alien Love War brings together stories published in various venues, with a deep dive into the future of humans and the alien Wergen. The Wergen are sexually attracted to humans, apparently against their will, and this makes for both uneasy relationships and abuses of trust from taking advantage of the alien. Sooner or later, the Wergen will revolt. There’s a fascinating biology on display and the judges reached for comparisons with Octavia E. Butler to think through its depictions of interspecies relationships. The arc of the overall narrative works really well and there is a complex relationship between the chapters.

You read til the break of dawn

(Believing the weirdest things, loving the alien)

And you’ll believe you’re loving the alien

(Believing the weirdest things, loving the alien)

Thank you, and thank you again to the judges. Thank you

Dr Andrew M. Butler, Chair of Judges

Andrew M. Butler is a British academic who teaches film, media and cultural studies at Canterbury Christ Church University. He is a former editor of the BSFA’s magazine Vector: The Critical Journal of the British Science Fiction Association and was membership secretary of the Science Fiction Foundation. A judge on the juries that gave the award to The Sparrow and Calcutta Chromosome, he is currently the non-voting Chair of Judges.

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